March 20, 2018 / 2:39 AM / a month ago

Panthers blank Canadiens for third straight time

Aaron Ekblad and Aleksander Barkov scored as the Florida Panthers defeated the host Montreal Canadiens 2-0 on Monday night at the Bell Centre.

Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo, a Montreal native, made 28 saves to earn his third shutout of the season. He snapped a personal two-game losing streak and is 7-2-1 in his past 10 contests.

Luongo also tied Ed Belfour and Tony Esposito for ninth place on the NHL list with 76 career shutouts.

The Panthers have shut out Montreal three straight times this season, the first time Florida has done that to any team.

Ekblad’s goal, his 15th of the season, tied his career high. Barkov’s goal, his 26th, is two short of his career best. He also has 71 points this season, the most by a Panthers player since Olli Jokinen 10 years ago.

With the win, the Panthers (79 points) now trail the idle New Jersey Devils by just three points in the battle for the final wild-card playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. The Panthers have two games in hand on the Devils.

Montreal, out of playoff contention, lost for the eighth time in its past nine games, including three in a row.

However, Montreal goalie Antti Niemi - who played for the Panthers earlier this season - was superb, making 38 saves.

The Panthers opened the scoring on a goal by Ekblad, who spent five minutes in the penalty box earlier in the period after coming out on the losing end of a fight with Montreal forward Nicolas Deslauriers.

Ekblad, who was seen with an ice pack under his left eye while in the penalty box, got more than even when he beat a defender to a loose puck in the slot, stick-handled past a second Canadiens skater and then beat Niemi with a backhander.

Montreal seemed to tie the score 17 seconds later when Artturi Lehkonen’s wraparound pass found Jacob de la Rose out in front for an easy goal. But the Panthers challenged, and a video replay showed the Canadiens were offsides, negating the goal.

Florida extended its lead to 2-0 with 6:23 gone in the third period. A wrist shot by Barkov deflected in off of Montreal defenseman Noah Juulsen. Nick Bjugstad picked up one of the assists, giving him 21 points in his past 21 games.

— Field Level Media

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